Kansans won’t have to pay for in-state college applications during 3-day window this fall

Kansas Board of Regents member Cindy Lane endorsed creation of a three-day window in November for public colleges and universities in Kansas to waive application fees for Kansas residents seeking to enroll as undergraduate students. Photo credit Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector.

By Tim Carpenter

The Kansas Board of Regents unanimously voted Tuesday to create a three-day window during November in which public colleges and universities in the state would waive undergraduate application fees for Kansas residents regardless of a person’s income or age.

The pilot project scheduled for Nov. 7-9, 2023, would attempt to address the 11.5 percentage point decline between 2014 and 2021 in the rate of Kansas high school graduates who enrolled within one year at any of more than 30 public institutions under jurisdiction of the Board of Regents.

Application fees range from $25 to $40

The free application initiative, modeled after a similar effort in Colorado, would be open to Kansas residents interested in enrolling as undergraduate students.

Eligible persons would include first-time freshmen, transfer students, returning students and those seeking a second bachelor’s degree.

The Board of Regents’ pilot project wouldn’t be available to nonresident applicants nor to individuals applying to graduate school.

Universities will lose some revenue

The project would cost state universities about $1 million annually in application fee revenue typically spent on admissions staff and enrollment management operations.

The University of Kansas, Wichita State University and Kansas State University would surrender more than two-thirds of that revenue total.

Pittsburg State University doesn’t have an undergraduate application fee.

Community colleges in Kansas don’t have a general application fee, but technical colleges do.

Kanas high school graduates applying to college have dropped

The pilot would likely produce more “soft” applications from people who don’t actually enroll at a public institution in Kansas, but advocates believe it could draw more students into a higher education system struggling to sustain enrollment numbers.

“What are some of the things we can do right now to remove barriers and kind of better position ourselves to have a more robust high school-to-college pipeline?” said Daniel Archer, vice president for academic affairs with the Board of Regents.

Archer said evidence of the state’s challenge could be found in statistics comparing Kansas public college enrollment in 2014 and 2021, which was during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said 58.9% of Kansas high school graduates enrolled within one year at a Kansas public college or university in 2014. That percentage fell to 43.7% in 2021.

Comparable statistics along racial and ethnic lines in Kansas indicated Hispanic enrollment in that period plummeted from 50% to 31.9%, he said. Black enrollment crashed over those seven years from 51.5% to 32.7%, while white enrollment slid from 56.8% to 48.1%.

“Really critical, I think, to emphasize that we’re going to look at the total number of applicants as well as the total number of applicants by race and ethnicity,” Archer said.

Pilot in Colorado led to jump in applications

Cynthia Lane, a member of the Board of Regents and the retired superintendent of Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools, said the higher education board should measure the pilot project in terms of how application fees influenced prospective students.

She said the experiment should be useful in development of recruiting strategies for the state’s public universities.

The precise window established by the Board of Regents would be 12 a.m. Nov. 7 to 11:59 p.m. Nov. 9. Applications could be filled out in advance, but would need to be submitted during the three-day window.

Five years ago, Colorado started an Apply Free day for the state’s residents. It began with a one-day fee holiday in October.

Marketing was conducted in English and Spanish, and residents of that state were given the opportunity to apply without charge to undergraduate programs at all state public and some private Colorado colleges and universities.

In 2020, the third year of the Colorado program, 56,800 applications were filed in a single day. That amounted to a 28% increase in interest compared to the program’s first year.

In Colorado, 44% of the third-year applications were submitted by students of color and 28% by first-generation students. Colorado moved to a three-day window in 2021 to better deal with the avalanche of applications.

This story was originally published by the Kansas Reflector.

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